Let’s be honest. Traveling as a vegan can be tough.
Vegans will tell you about all the beautiful meals they ate while traveling. They make it seem so easy to acquire satisfying and tasty meals… but how do they do it? The truth is that unless you are organized and well-researched, finding food is probably going to be difficult.
Don’t lie. We have all had a meal that looked like this.
Shit like this happens when you didn’t plan ahead, are starving, and every restaurant you pass has zero vegan options. Then like sweet Jesus appearing from the heavens you spot a “veggie options!” sign outside a tourist trap restaurant. Sweet relief. Overwhelmed with pure bliss in knowing you are about to eat, you happily take a seat. Looking over the menu, you quickly realize “veggie options” meant vegetarian options and that the only vegan option is the overpriced bowl of mixed fruit.
Naturally, you pay 6 euros for two bowls of mushy, syrupy, seedy fruit.
Lets 👏 Avoid 👏 That 👏 Situation 👏
Yes, that was my story from my first few hours in Florence, Italy. Shame on me for not planning ahead!
As vegans, we cannot expect the world to cater to our very specific food requirements. More and more restaurants are offering vegan options everyday, but we need to accept the reality of the situation — we are a tiny minority and sometimes we will have to eat the mushy fruit bowl. But this doesn’t need to happen every time!
These are my top 10 tips to eating vegan while traveling.
1. Download the HappyCow app
In the past while traveling, I’ve assumed that if I just walk around for awhile I will stumble across a restaurant with vegan options. Everywhere has something that is vegan or can be modified, right? You’d be surprised.
With this walk-around-until-you-get-lucky method, you will probably…
- Pay for an expensive salad you stripped away of meat and cheese, leaving only lettuce and tomatoes with a very disappointing olive oil dressing.
- End up eating a lot of french fries and potatoes. Not bad in theory, but not the best.
- Waste lots of precious time walking around hangry.
- Possibly stumble across a super cool, delicious vegan restaurant. (But unless you’re in a veg-friendly city like London — probably not.)
Save yourself time and a disappointing meal buy getting the HappyCow app. HappyCow has a whole database of vegan, vegetarian, and veg-option restaurants in your location. Filter by establishment type (bakery, farmer’s market, etc), by category (raw food, gluten-free, etc), or by cuisine (asian, italian, etc). You can see restaurant ratings and reviews, as well as operation hours, contact info, and price. The map view shows each establishment’s proximity to you, which is super helpful! No need to waste time mindlessly walking when you can see everything on the map.
The HappyCow website is free and helpful for research prior to travel. However, I recently invested a couple of dollars to download the app. The app is much easier to navigate than the mobile website and it’s worth the money!
2. Understand cultural differences
Whenever you travel somewhere new, it is helpful to research how veganism is viewed there.
When I visit the south of the United States, I need to explicitly state that I do not eat meat, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, or butter. If I say I am vegan, they assume I am pescatarian. In places where veganism isn’t particularly rampant, you might need to elaborate on what you do and do not eat so you don’t end up with a big dead fish on your plate.
Also understand that vegan-appearing dishes might include animal products in different cultures. Once I ordered red beans and rice at a restaurant in New Orleans, and it smelled suspiciously like meat… I asked what was in it and learned it was made with pork broth. It is common for the south to add animal products into vegan-appearing dishes, but I still felt silly for being tricked by red beans and rice. This is why I have trust issues. 👀
3. Research the national cuisine
Learn the national dishes that will be offered in restaurants and see if any of them are vegan or can be veganized. They should be available in many restaurants, which is particularly useful if you are traveling with non-vegans who aren’t keen on eating at vegan restaurants the entire trip.
Here in Barcelona when I go to a typical Spanish restaurant, vegetable paella and pan con tomate are my token vegan options. While they are easy to find, not all restaurants offer them so it is still good to check the menu before taking a seat!
4. Learn vegan keywords in the national language
At the very least, you should learn how to say “I am vegan” and “I do not eat meat, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, or butter” in the national language of the country you are visiting. This will help you communicate your dietary restrictions to waiters at restaurants.
Also, you should download the Google Translate app. I love this app because it has a camera so you can easily scan and translate nutrition labels and menus!
5. Stick to specific types of cuisines
If you cannot find a vegan option in the city you are visiting, head to an Asian or Indian restaurant. These restaurants are my go-to places to eat — there is always a vegan option and the food is delicious! 👌
6. Find nearby grocery stores
I freaking love going to grocery stores in different cities and countries! It is so cool to see how stores around the world differ with their produce, snack, and prepared-meal options. Besides visiting a grocery store for the novelty, be sure to stock up on food! Buy lots of snacks for your trip, as well as any fun items you want to try that aren’t available at home.
7. Book an Airbnb with a kitchen
Speaking of grocery stores… you’ll want a place to cook your food! I definitely suggest finding an Airbnb that has a kitchen (or at least a fridge)
Finding good vegan breakfast while traveling is such a pain. You’d think you could cop a bowl of simple, dairy-free oatmeal somewhere? But nope, most of the time you are left with a dozen different pastry options and none of them are vegan. Buying some breakfast items from the grocery store is much more convenient, satisfying, and budget-friendly.
While it is nice to go out to restaurants, it is also great to cook lunch or dinner for yourself. I tend to feel really heavy and lethargic eating out too much, so I really value having a kitchen to make myself a meal at home. On a trip to Italy, I found some vegan potato gnocchi at the grocery store and cooked it up with some pasta sauce! It was a nice change of pace and made me feel energized and light.
8. Use a delivery app to order in
When we visited Egypt, outside the organized tours that provided lunch, it was very difficult to find food. We didn’t know any Arabic and it was impossible to guess what any on the menus were saying due to the different alphabet.
This was stressful, so we just ended up ordering food using a local food delivery app. Hahaha.
I am sure we could have handled finding food a bit better, but we actually really did enjoy ordering food into the hotel! We could read all the options in English, had tons of restaurants and cuisines to choose from, and could enjoy the food from the comfort of our hotel room. 10/10 would do again — I don’t care how antisocial it is. 🤷♀️
9. Carry snacks!!!
This is an obvious suggestion, but pack up some snacks. If worst comes to worst, you won’t be a hangry human in search for food.
On a recent trip to Mallorca, we took a bus out to a village for a hiking excursion. While the main city has several restaurants with vegan options, we knew it would be more difficult to find food in the remote village. We went to a grocery store prior and loaded up on nuts, dried fruits, apples, and water to push us through the day until we got back home for dinner.
If you are worried about finding snacks in the city you are visiting, pack some of your favorites before your trip! Be aware that some countries might not allow you to take fresh produce on the flight with you. Stick to dried fruits, granola bars, nuts + seeds, and other packaged snacks if you are unsure.
10. Don’t let anyone guilt trip you into eating non-vegan food!
Many people say that when you visit a new place you must eat the traditional and popular dishes to get the “full cultural experience.” And I agree that it is a great thing to experience new foods and learn about the national cuisine!
But the reality of going vegan (or vegetarian) is that you truly do cut yourself off from the “full cultural experience” in terms of food. And that is okay! Food is a huge part of culture, but it is not the only part. You can still have a very meaningful experience while traveling without stuffing yourself with animal products. It is also possible that you can find a restaurant that serves vegan versions of traditionally meat-based dishes, so you can get the best of both worlds 😉
You should never feel like you are missing out on a great food experience because you have so many beautiful fruits and veggies to enjoy! I hope all these tips can help you plan your next trip. 💜
How do you stay vegan while traveling? Let me know in the comments below!